- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

The 2008 Democratic presidential candidates are promising voters billions of dollars in new government spending, paid for in part by “rolling back” the Bush tax cuts.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois would give the middle class a tax cut. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina would give everyone in America health care. Ditto for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who would also spend billions on the nation’s bridges, implement universal pre-kindergarten and increase funding for cancer research.

The Democrats say their programs would be funded by ending President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest households, but that cash isn’t nearly enough to cover their promises, and it might not be available by the time one of them would take office in January 2009.

Still, it’s a big applause line on the campaign trail, especially for Mr. Edwards, who tells voters that his $90 billion to $120 billion health care plan is not free.

“I’ve got a way to pay for it,” he boasted at the Service Employees International Union conference this week. “Let’s get rid of George Bush’s tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.”

However, those tax cuts are set to expire in 2010, and Congress hasn’t renewed them. Watchdog groups and legislative sources said it is impossible to know whether the money from the about $55 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans will be available for a president to spend on other priorities.

“I have to deal with what exists today … these tax cuts exist today,” Mr. Edwards said last month.

Mrs. Clinton has proposed at least $166.7 billion in new plans, ranging from providing health care to fixing the mortgage market, a quick totaling of proposals on her campaign Web site reveals.

The Bush tax cuts that “are really benefiting the wealthiest Americans” would fund half her $110 billion health care plan, Mrs. Clinton said in a Web-cast Tuesday. She outlined the cost-cutting measures to pay for the other half — including allowing Medicare to negotiate for cheaper prescription drugs.

Mr. Obama this week said getting rid of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts would fund his proposed $85 billion in tax cuts for the middle class. But his $50 billion health care plan is also funded by the Bush tax cuts and cost-savings measures.

Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy at the nonprofit OMB Watch, cautioned the candidates against talking bigger than they can deliver.

“It’s good to have vision and to be talking about priorities, but people should ratchet down their promises about what will actually be enacted,” he said, noting that any spending must pass Congress. “The reality is, you’re not a king.”

A House Democratic aide said proposing new programs that rely on the Bush tax cuts seems like flawed logic because “there’s just no way to know what revenues will be.”

The Democrat-led Congress this year deferred action on renewing the tax cuts, prompting cries of a tax increase from Republicans, who crafted the cuts with an expiration date.

The aide added: “We hope a Democratic president would make sure their policies would also follow” the pay-as-you-go budget rules, which require that new spending have a specific revenue source.

At the liberal YearlyKos forum last month, Mr. Obama pledged to follow those rules when asked about the deficit.

“If we are going to have tax cuts, we’ve got to pay for them; if we have additional spending, you’ve got to pay for it,” he said. “We’re going to have investments that we’ve got to make in the American people at the same time as we are dealing with this deficit, and I’m not going to shortchange making sure that we have early-childhood education for every child.”

Among his other proposals are an urban revitalization plan that would cost “a few billion dollars a year” and includes $1 billion over five years for job-training programs.

At a recent cancer forum, Mrs. Clinton said she would “double” the National Institute of Health’s $28 billion budget and the National Cancer Institute’s nearly $5 billion budget over 10 years. After the Minnesota bridge collapse last month, she proposed spending $1.5 billion per year for public transit and $10 billion over 10 years to redesign and reconstruct ailing bridges.

Her universal pre-kindergarten plan would cost $5 billion the first year and $10 billion after five years. She has proposed $1 billion to help at-risk mortgage borrowers avoid foreclosure. Smaller-ticket items range from $25 million for cancer-survivor groups to $36 million for school physical-education programs.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has proposed a $40,000-per-year minimum wage for teachers, has called for constitutional amendments requiring a balanced budget and giving the president a line-item veto.

“The $450 billion we’re spending in Iraq — we [would] spend it for our people for health care, for education,” he said at YearlyKos, adding he would also end $73 billion in corporate welfare and “get rid” of congressional earmarks, which total $13 billion.

But Mr. Hughes warned the candidates against talking about Iraq funds, explaining that even if the war ended tomorrow, it would free some money for domestic priorities, but there would not suddenly be billions for them to use sitting in the Treasury.

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